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Lights, Camera, Local!

Actor Freddy Rodriguez steps out as a director to shed light on a rising Chicago artist.  

Actor and native Chicagoan Freddy Rodriguez directed a short film about Chicago artist Hebru Brantley for the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series.


Freddy Rodriguez

Hebru Brantley 

Freddy Rodriguez is paying it forward.

The encouragement the actor received while growing up in Chicago—from his serendipitous arrival at a theater program in his early teens to the attention he drew onstage at Lincoln Park High School—led him into a career that might otherwise have been unimaginable. “Without that support,” says Rodriguez, “I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Today, the versatile star of films and TV series like Six Feet Under, Bobby, Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden and an upcoming flick on the infamous punk club CBGB is as in-demand as ever, but he’s adding two new credits to his resume, director and mentor, through an innovative arts program.

For its third year, the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series (, a nationwide competition for undiscovered talent, was looking to pair five celebrity filmmakers with five up-and-coming visual artists from different cities. And that’s where Rodriguez comes in. “They wanted an established artist from each of the cities to direct a short film about the artist who won from that same city,” he says. “I wanted to do it for a few different reasons: I wanted to direct, and I wanted to help support that artist, help give him a shot. When I was getting started there were some opportunities for mentorship, but not to the extent that the Artisan Series is offering.”

Whatever nerves Rodriguez had about stepping behind the camera for the first time dissolved after organizers announced the Chicago winner was Hebru Brantley, whose urban, graffiti-inspired artwork instantly reminded Rodriguez of their mutual hometown. His short film, shot in just three days in October, uses the backdrop of Chicago street culture to explore Brantley’s artistic process and inspiration.

“I felt an immediate connection with Hebru’s work,” says Rodriguez. “I’m from Bucktown, and let me just point out that’s not the Bucktown of today with the Marc Jacobs store on the corner. This was the ’80s—it was a different neighborhood then. And Hebru is from the South Side. There’s a common language between both of our arts because we both have the same roots and the same foundation, so Hebru just trusted me and the way I work.”

Their wild ride was captured by Oscar-nominated director Lauren Lazin for Imagination to Reality: An Artisan’s Journey, which will premiere globally on Ovation Network on Feb. 22. The documentary hits an inspiring high when Rodriguez’s short film debuts at Art Basel Miami, where (spoiler alert!) Brantley was drawing big-time buzz after the painting that clinched his spot in the Artisan Series sold for $20,000 to hip-hop mogul Jay-Z. Rodriguez’s film even has a future on the big screen—it’s slated for the Tribeca Film Festival in April.

That’s all icing on the cake for Rodriguez, who got the most satisfaction from helping a hometown artist step into the spotlight the way his early mentors helped him. “To be on the other side, it felt great,” says Rodriguez. “It was great to share stories and ideas.”